GREEN is more than a color!

Thinking about GREEN or ecological things would have been about the last thing I would have thought about growing up. I knew not to litter of course as that was unsightly and just wrong but I was not a tree hugger of any sort. These days we hear a lot about being green. Global warming is something that is on many people's minds. So many companies tout how green they or their products are - often as a sales gimmick. Not everyone is a believer but the fact is that even if you don't worry about the temperature of the world it is a good thing to keep it in nice shape for our kids and grand kids who will follow us.

We took stock of our methods in our shop and house to see how we were doing. What we found surprised me. Our decisions were largely based on lifestyle and economic choices but were also good for the environment.

Our workshop is in our backyard - about 300 feet from the house. I walk to work. I couldn't imagine commuting and never have. It's been a purposeful decision all of our lives. We live in the tiny town of Yarrow and walk to the bank, post office, restaurants and everything else in town too. The Yarrow business district is only three blocks long. It is all about living a lifestyle that suits us, but it turns out we win some big points here for being green.


Our shop truck is a Dodge Dakota. I like a small truck as it is easy to get around town and park too. The small truck uses less fuel than a big one would. To haul larger pieces or tools we use our trailers. Our second vehicle, a compact car is a gas miser. If I don't need the truck for my occasional errands I use it instead. More points for the environment.

We go to town only one or twice each week. We save up our errands and do our best to get everything we need at once. It is all about saving gas and more importantly time. When I get materials delivered I tend to buy in bulk. Products sourced from a distant suppliers are bought in large quantities - enough for six months or more. Buying in volume saves money and considerable savings in shipping costs are also realized. But once again it is good for the environment as well.

Janis now has me in the habit of turning out the lights whenever I leave a room. The heat gets turned down at night too. These things save money, but also win us a few more green points too. 

We don't fertilize or water our lawns. We don't use weedkillers or pesticides on our property because we know it is bad for us and our animals. My grand daughter Phoebe has convinced me that dandelions are beautiful after all. All our paper products and plastics are recycled. Electronic waste is turned in to the recyclers as is old paint we don't need any more. I use scrap steel as much as possible as a cost saving measure. The little bit of metal waste we produce goes into a recycling bin that we share with our neighbor. We also share some major tools with him, meaning less duplication. He lets us use his forklift and he uses our tractor. It saves us investinng in equipment. All these measures also win us a few more green points for the enviroment.

When we built our shop we wanted it to be efficient to heat. We also wanted to contain the noise I made inside so we receive no complaints from the neighbors. Insurance requirements dictated we build the new shop with a fireproof rating. We decided on styrofoam block infilled with concrete as it gave us an incredible ‘R-40’ rating. A typical concrete block building has a rating of only ‘R-7’. This means our building has massive insulation and is very efficient to heat. In summer it stays cool without air conditioning. This saves us a ton of money and also garners big points for being green. The walls of our shop are 16" thick!

Our efficient heating is supplied by natural gas fired radiant heaters in the shop. These heaters warm surfaces rather than the air meaning it is like working in the sunshine. I like to be warm while I work. It also recovers quickly should I open the big shop doors. But once again we win gather some big points in the environmental department.

Since we don’t have a vinyl cutter or make flat signs we don’t have all the waste generated by that process. Everything we do is painted by hand with water based acrylic paints. These are choices purposely made because it is what I like to do. I much prefer to clean up with water rather than turpentine. We don’t have to deal with paint fumes either. But once more we win in the environmental side of things.

We mix our paint in recycled cans and plastic containers salvaged from the kitchen. Our shop towels and rags are bought at the local thrift store (used and in bulk of course). Rags are used through a number of cycles before they are tossed. We even buy my shop shirts at the thrift stores. Between paint and welding splatter they don’t last long and there’s no point in buying new as I go through them so fast. We do all of the above as cost cutting measures but all that recycling makes good environmental sense too. 

We use a lot of Precision Board High Density Urethane in our shop. We switched from wood a number of years ago as the HDU holds paint so much better than wood ever did. Properly constructed, our signs last a lot longer too. It turns out that Coastal Enterprises’ Precision Board is the greenest HDU on the market by a considerable margin. It contains no Chlorinated Fluorocarbons (CFC’s) and no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). While some would argue it is better to build signs with wood, the relatively short life span of wood signs means lots of trees are being cut down to replace the signs more often. And we all know the clear redwood or cedar we used to build with is almost impossible to get these days. First growth is now all but gone. It is time for change.

We are currently planning a new house on our property. It will be built with concrete filled foam blocks as is the shop. We'll use super efficient geothermal heat, and energy efficient appliances. It will be passively solar (large windows to the south) and have a large thermal mass to retain the heat in winter. Each decision we are making will be based on both economic sense and comfort with an eye towards current and future standards in the green department. We won't go crazy in being green just to be green but once we are done the house will be far greener than anything we have built before. 

I think back to when I was a kid when we dumped our used oil or turpentine on the weeds in the driveway to control them. Everything we didn’t want went into the trash without a second thought. It was no big deal then but now we know better. Practices and attitudes are changing as we realize there is a limit to what we can do. At our house and shop we are making better choices partly for economic reasons and partly because it is the right thing to do. 

Although our shop is far greener than most I have been reluctant to come out and advertise it, but perhaps it is time... 

-grampa  dan

Dan SawatzkyComment